Knitting at Meetings

One aspect of working from home that I’ve come to enjoy  is the opportunity to knit during conference calls. I usually have at least one such call every day, each lasting 30 to 90 minutes.  During these meetings, I keep pen and paper within easy reach for taking notes, but for the most part, I knit.

My conference call project bag. It currently holds a simple scarf that I am knitting from some of my hand spun yarn.
My conference call project bag. It currently holds a simple scarf that I am knitting from some of my hand spun yarn.

I knit simple things: socks, scarves, shawls, stockinette sections of cardigans. Nothing with lace or cables. Nothing that requires concentration. Just a project with enough cognitive load to keep my brain from idling.

Here are some other projects I’ve worked on while on a headset:

I exult in the new-found productivity of these precious minutes. Suddenly, meetings are no longer dead time in my day: they’re a highlight, a wonderful example of work and life in balance.

When something is the highlight of your day you pay more attention to it. At least, that’s my experience. During meetings, the yarn and needles seem to absorb all of my fidgetyness, impatience, and anxiety. The wool seems to wick away my propensity to daydream. The knitting centers me. I am more present, more “in the now.”

I would think more managers would like their employees to be “present” and “in the now” in meetings. It’s too bad that so many coping techniques–like knitting or doodling–are considered unprofessional and a waste of time.

Time Magazine ran a very entertaining article about the benefits of doodling and fidgeting during meetings in 2009. In the article they cited a study published in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology. The study found that participants who were instructed to doodle during a lecture were able to retain more information compared to participants who were instructed not to doodle.

In a  1992 article from NY Times Magazine, Perri Klass wrote about her love of knitting and how she has used it to help her fill time and pay better attention while in medical school and then, later, as a physician. In particular, she talks about the power relationships that help determine those situations where it is acceptable to knit and where it is not.

All of this, of course, is predicated on the notion that you are being *seen*  or perceived to be knitting.

In today’s work environment, more and more people, like me, are starting to work remotely. We are heard but not seen. We have more opportunities for self-determination during the work day, including the techniques we use to help us pay attention.  Increasingly, professional behavior is a matter of context. If my knitting helps me keep my focus during a conference call and it bothers no one else, it must be an acceptable and professional behavior.

All the same, I’m shy about telling people I knit during phone meetings. Times and attitudes are slowly changing but for now, I still feel that I need to hide my knitting. If people imagine what I am doing on the other end of the line here is what I want them to imagine: me staring at the phone.  Society seems to think that’s more professional and productive than knitting a sweater.


  1. THANK YOU! I knit during meetings all the time, in person and on the phone. I hate when I go to one where I feel like maybe I should not knit. What do I do instead? Doodle, of course. 🙂 Send me to a conference, and I will come home with hats, socks, scarves – all done in meetings and those interminable keynote luncheons. SO I say to you, knit on, McDuff. 🙂

    • We can’t be the only ones who have found some sort of productive way of keeping our minds active at such times. Doodling isn’t terribly productive. And checking email is just distracting. I wonder what people do that I don’t know about.

      • maybe we should start paying more attention to what others are doing rather than our knitting at meetings. 🙂 I do see lots of doodlers, and email checking, but not much else. I agree about the email – I think that people who do that are NOT paying attention, where I feel when I knit or doodle, I am still paying attention.

  2. I’ve been knitting on conference calls for several years now. I’m still surprised at how much better I absorb what is being said on the call. Also, knitting seems to help temper my sometimes impatient communication style. I listen better, reflect more on what is being said and come forth with better responses. Sadly, it’s still not seen as appropriate to knit in in-person meetings but hopefully society will eventually come around. There would be a lot fewer hostile meetings if everyone knit while we talked.

    • I know what you mean. Knitting makes me a better person in just about every context I can think of.

  3. Q – First, I am so excited to see that you use the project bag I made especially for you. Can’t use my Peterson app without thinking of you! Second, there were two of us who knit during faculty meetings. The different principals didn’t seem to mind. And I totally agree with the study, we retained everything said at the meetings, even the boring stuff. I think if the fingers are engaged, your less inclined to daydream. LOL!

    The projects you’ve knit during your conference calls are awesome! I’ve been wanting to knit the Hitchhiker!

  4. Interesting! I have heard that many interpreters as well (at least within the European Commission) knit in their booths while attending the meetings. It eases their nerves (booths and meetings can be stressful, sometimes), helps them to concentrate on the discussion going on so that they are ready to speak whenever their language combination is needed…

  5. I confess that I do it too. I have been working from home for the last year and a half and I’ve discovered that I pay more attention at meetings while knitting, otherwise my attention gets more easily distracted.

  6. I knit at a doctors appointment and during some meetings. I’ve told the speakers it helps me keep more focused and they’ve all been cool with it. But then again I monitor who the speakers are. I can’t knit in front of everybody. It’s such a shame.

  7. I started knitting during my masters and pretty quickly realized I got way more out of my classes if I knit during them. All of my professors supported it, and I think it made a huge difference.

    I work in an office now and although I don’t have much downtime, I definitely get the impression that knitting at my desk would be frowned upon, whereas staring at the screen (even if it’s to read a blog post) appears more productive. Sigh.

  8. I wish I could knit while interacting with crazy customers at the bookstore. It would certainly help with managing my general issues with insane, angry people. However, I don’t think that people would appreciate me walking around with a sock attached to me while showing them where the automotive section is.

  9. Totally agreed on all counts. I listen much better, and for much longer, when I can keep my hands busy. I’ve had bosses and presenters who “get it” (or at least tolerate it) and ones who don’t, and there is a definitely difference in what I retain.

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